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How to Set an Out of Office Message in Outlook (Automatic Away Reply)

Time
off is a common perk offered by most businesses. According to statistics from
the Center
for Economic and Policy Research
the average U.S. worker takes ten
days off a year.  The amount of time off
for workers in other countries is much higher, though. A USA
Today
article reports that the average number of days off in
many European countries is 30 days or greater—with
Austria and Portugal tied for the highest number of days off (35).

We
love our time off!  And why wouldn’t we?
Personal days can be used for anything from vacation to doctor appointments and
more.  But if you’re going to take time
away from the office, the professional thing to do is set up an automatic out
of office email message. The message will let clients and colleagues know that
you’re unavailable and instruct them what to do until you return.

In
this short tutorial with a video, you’ll learn how to set up an out of office
message in Microsoft Outlook using the Outlook Rules Wizard. We’ll provide step-by-step instructions on how to set up an automatic out
of office reply in Outlook. We’ll also share some It also some vacation email best practices.

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How to Set Up an Out of Office Message in Outlook
(With Video)


In
the screencast above learn how to quickly set up an automatic reply in
Outlook. Or, read on for written instructions to help you set up an Outlook
away message, best practice tips to follow, and more:

How to Set Up an Automatic Message Responder in MS Outlook

If
you don’t have a Microsoft Exchange account, you’ll need to set up your out of
office message using Outlook’s rules functionality. You can learn more about using MS Outlook rules in
this tutorial:

1. Create a Message Template

The
first step to setting up an Outlook out of office reply is to create the text
of your out of office message and save it as a template. Start in your Outlook inbox:

email inbox
Your first step in creating an away message is to open a new email message. 

Click
the New Email icon on the upper
left. The New Message window
appears:

new message window
Type the body of the Outlook away message in the new email you just opened.

Note: This message uses the 1000 Email Signatures
template
from Envato Elements. You can also download and customize
your own email signature from
GraphicRIver.

If
you use email signature images or any other type of embedded image in your
email, make sure your message format is set to HTML. Learn more about email
signature templates in this tutorial:

Type
your Subject line and the body of
your email message. You don’t need to fill out the To field because the message will automatically be sent to whoever
sends you a message.

Here’s an example: 

away message in Outlook
Keep your Outlook away message brief and to the point.

Once
you’ve completed a draft of your message, you need to save it as a template.
Select File > Save as. A Windows Explorer prompt appears so that
you store and save your message.

Choose
a file location on your computer to store the message, type in the file name
and save the file in Outlook template format:

save an out of office message template
Save your out of office message as a template.

2. Create the Rule and Turn It On

The
next step in creating an automatic out of office message is to create a rule
for sending the message. Click File
on your Outlook inbox to go to the Account
Information
screen:

account information screen
You can access the Outlook Rules from the Account Information screen.

Click
Manage Rules & Alerts. Make
sure that the Email Rules tab is
selected.  The Rules and Alerts window appears. You’ll see a list of your current email rules: 

Rules and Alerts window
You can create a new email rule from the Rules and Alerts window or modify an existing one.

Click the New Rule icon above
the rules list to display the Rules Wizard:

rules wizard screen 1
Start your away message with a blank rule that’ll be applied to messages you receive.

Under the Start from a blank rule
category select the Apply rule on
messages I receive
option. Click the Next
button. The second Rules Wizard
screen displays: 

rules wizard screen 2
In this screen, define the people who’ll receive your out of office email address.

Note: some security experts now recommend that you limit who receives
your Outlook out of office reply rather than sending it to everyone who sends
you an email message.

To determine who gets the out of office reply, check the box next to from people or public group under
Step 1. Click the link under Step 2 to open your address book and choose who’ll receive your autoreply message and then click the From button. Most likely you’ll want to choose the email addresses
of coworkers you deal with often as well as the emails of important clients. When
you’ve selected who’ll receive the autoresponder, click OK and then click Next on
the Rules Wizard.

If you don’t want to limit who receives your out of office reply, click Next without making any selections on
this Rules Wizard screen. Your
autoreply message will be sent to everyone who sends you an email message.) 

Either way, the third Rules
Wizard
screen appears:

rules wizard screen 3
In this screen, choose the away message template you created earlier.

Select the reply using a specific
template
option under Step 1. Under Step 2 click the reply using a specific template link. The Select a Reply Template window appears:

select a reply template window
Choose the template that contains your automatic away message reply.

Select the template you created earlier and click Open. (If you didn’t save your template in the default location,
you may need to Browse to find it.)

Click Next to go to the next Rules Wizard, which asks about
exceptions. We don’t want to specify any exceptions. Click Next and you’ll be
prompted to name the rule: 

final rules wizard window
Use the final Rules Wizard window to name the rule and turn it on.

Type the name of the rule. Make sure the Turn on this rule checkbox is checked.

Click the Finish
button on the Rules Wizard.
Then, click the Apply button on the Rules and Alerts window and then click OK.

You’ve just created an Autoresponder in MS
Outlook!

3. Test the Outlook Away Message

Now
that you’ve created your out of the office message, it’s a good idea to see if
it works before you leave your office.

You can test the autoreply message by sending a message from
another email you own—as long as you’ve included that email in the rule as one
that is supposed to receive the autoreply message. Or, you can enlist the aid
of a friend whose email you included as one that’s supposed to receive the out
of office message.

After
a short wait (some email systems retrieve incoming messages in batches), check
the email you sent the test email message from. If you followed the steps properly,
that email address will have received the out of office autoreply.

4. Turn the Outlook
Away Message Off

When you return to the office, it’s time to turn the out of office
message off. From your inbox select File
to go to the Account information
screen.

account information screen
You need to return to the Rules and Alerts window to turn the out of office message off.

Click
on the Manage Rules & Alerts
icon. The Rules and Alerts window
appears:

turning off the Outlook out of office message
Use the checkbox to turn the Out of Office Reply rule off.

Remove
the check from beside Out of Office
Reply
(or whatever you named your rule). Click the Apply button and then click OK.
Your out of office reply has been turned off.

To turn it back on again, return to the Rules and Alerts
window. Check the box next to your rule, then click Apply and OK.

MS Outlook Away Message Best Practices

Since your Outlook away message will be received by your clients and
customers as well as your coworkers, you need to make sure it’s professional.
Here are some best practices to follow for Outlook away messages:

1. Be Cautious
About Using Humor

If you know exactly who’ll be receiving your messages, you probably
understand their sense of humor. You can insert some tasteful humor into your
out of office message—but be careful. What you think is funny may seem unprofessional to others. If you don’t
know who’ll be receiving your message, it’s probably a good idea to skip the
humor.

CollectiveHub has a list
of funny out of office email messages
. I’ll let you decide which ones you think are
appropriate.

2. Format Your Out of Office Message
Appropriately

Your
out of office message is a professional communication, and you should treat it
as such. It can be brief, but you should at least include the following:

  • Subject line. This
    doesn’t have to be detailed, but it should be there.
  • Salutation. While you can’t greet the recipient by name, you
    can include a generic greeting such as “Hello.”
  • Introduction. This
    email is likely to be short. Most likely it’ll be a single paragraph. So, this
    is one case where you can skip an introduction.
  • Body text. In
    general, keep your language professional. We’ve already discussed how you
    should be cautious about using humor here.
  • Conclusion. Your
    conclusion will tell the recipient what to do if they need help right away.
  • Signature. Professional
    emails should include a signature so your recipient can see immediately who you
    are.
  • Signature image (optional). Including
    a signature image on your professional email is optional, but nice to have. You
    can incorporate one with a signature
    template
    .

For
more details on how to master proper business email format, study this
tutorial: 

3. Include Detail,
But Not Too Much

Traditional
advice for out of office replies had the message creator stating when they’ll
leave and when they’ll return. It also often advised the sender to name a
colleague who could help those who email you while you’re gone. Some message creators
even included details about their vacation, such as where they were going.

Unfortunately,
times have changed. Many experts now feel that such detailed out of office
messages may put you at risk—especially
if your message is being sent to everyone who emails you, which could include
spammers and even criminals. It’s safer to keep your message general for out of
office replies that automatically go to everyone who emails you. Another
alternative is to control who receives your Outlook out of office reply, as I
did in the example I created.

4. Include a Signature

If
you know who’ll receive your Outlook out of office reply, you should treat
the automatic responder just like any other professional message that you send.
That means you should include an email signature with this message. (If you don’t know who’ll receive the away message, a full email signature may have too much detail.)

If
you’ve got a signature template set up for your emails, using it
here’s an important part of your branding. This is especially true if you’re
a small business owner or freelancer.

5. Don’t Check-In Unnecessarily

If you’re taking a vacation, you may be tempted
to check your email often. And our cell phones and smart phones make checking
in so easy.

Don’t give into that temptation. Unless your job requires you to check
in, let your break be a true break. You’ll be back at work soon enough. Enjoy
your time off. When you get back you’ll feel much more rested.

Learn More About How to Use Outlook Email Effectively

Creating a automatic reply in Outlook is just one of the things you can do with your email system. To learn more about how to use Microsoft Outlook, study these tutorials:

Also, we have a great resource that’ll help you organize your email inbox and gain control of your email. It’s called: The Ultimate Guide to Inbox Zero Mastery and it’s yours free when you sign up for the Tuts+ Business newsletter.

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Be Ready for Vacation. Create Your Outlook Out of Office Reply Today!

You’ve
just learned how to set up an automatic out of office reply in Outlook. Why not
go ahead and create an Outlook away message today? Also, if you don’t already
have a signature image for your email, you can go ahead and download one from Envato
Elements
or GraphicRiver.